Behind the Scenes

inspiration Sep 01, 2019

While wandering through MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Arts) in the Arts District of Los Angeles I came upon a video monitor looping a piece by Mungo Thomson. The 34 minute video was titled The American Desert (for Chuck Jones). The odd coloring and the strength of the landscape design caught my interest.  After about three minutes I read the information posted on the wall.

The American Desert (for Chuck Jones) is an example of appropriation art, or the alteration of preexisting images or objects. To create this video, Thomson digitally manipulated 26 episodes of Chuck Jone’s animated series The Road Runner Show to arrive at an homage to the American West. Thomson erased the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote characters from the scenes, leaving only a stereotypical south-western desert landscape pocked by deep gorges, stone spires, and precipitous mesas. When the characters’ violent actions are stripped away, what remains is a slow-moving, soothing, and sublime image of unspoiled nature. Through a cartoon, generally seen as lowbrow entertainment, The American Desert (for Chuck Jones) presents a symbol of American identity.  Thomson’s work is both a celebration of the visual economy of Jones’s style and reflection on the idealized image of the American West.”

The background illustrations that captured my attention were created, I believe, by Philip DeGuard. 

I surprised myself by standing in front of the video monitor to watch it loop almost twice!  After 45 minutes, a museum guard informed me that the museum was closing.

The next morning I caught the Coast Starlight train heading north toward Seattle from Los Angeles. I gazed through the window at the landscape that inspired Philip DeGuard. With pen in hand, I borrowed DeGuard’s eyes and sketched snatches of the landscape as we zoomed along.  With a few invented shapes I wove the snatches together into an American Desert landscape that exists nowhere but in my sketchbook. Later, I painted in the shapes with a palette inspired by DeGuard's Road Runner Show backgrounds. 

The ones above I sketched in pen on the train and added color when I got to Mountain View.  The one below is the first one I sketched on the train. I added color on the train, too.

 I never know when my journey as an artist will take a detour and what will inspire that detour.  I find it amusing that I'm writing about being inspired by the backgrounds of the Road Runner Show when I saw quite a few amazing paintings by artists I love prior to being snagged by the video monitor.

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